As I Knew Them – Part III

When we last left Sen. James E. Watson’s memoirs, he was rhapsodizing about the effect Coolidge’s first message to Congress had on him, and how he recognized the new president’s performance as impressive and perfectly suited to the needs of the country at the time. For this installment, I’ll turn to a more light-hearted anecdote from the Coolidge White House.

Speaking of breakfast, I may say in this connection that President Coolidge served better breakfasts than any other incumbent of the White House in my time. He always had a cereal, cakes with Vermont maple syrup, sausage and bacon, all served up with a good strong coffee and thick cream. He served more breakfasts than any other president and usually had from eight to ten senators at a time, and on other occasions a certain number of the House of Representatives.

I had a very laughable experience at one of these breakfasts. The President permitted his favorite dogs, white collies about as high as the table, to stay in the room while meals were being served. On this particular occasion, one of these dogs came up to my side, and I patted his head and stroked him, after which I looked around to speak to my neighbor on the left. Instantly the dog reached over and “lapped” my two sausages out of my plate, gobbled them up, and demurely stood wagging his tail for more. When I called attention to it, all the senators roared. I told the President that I thought he ought to teach his dogs better manners than to forage off the senators, and that they ought to get their food from the members of the House instead.

The President, without batting an eye, said: “Waiter, get Senator Watson four more sausages and bring him four more pancakes,” so that the dog did not keep me from getting enough food at that meal.

When only a small company were present at dinner, these dogs always came in and wandered about and under the table while the meal was in progress. The President took sugar in his coffee, and after the contents had been consumed, he always held the cup down at the side of his chair and permitted the dogs to lick the sugar out of the bottom.

Will Rogers, after having had one of these meals with Coolidge, told his audience in the theater that night in his inimitable way of the experience. He said that the dogs got so much and there was so little on the table that he thought for time that it would be necessary for him to get down on all fours and crawl up to the President’s side in order to get enough to eat. This produced great laughter, that part that referred to “the little on the table” vastly amusing the crowd because of its inferential reference to Coolidge’s vigorously abstemious habits.

As I Knew Them – Part II

Continuing in the memoirs of Sen. James E. Watson as they pertain to Calvin Coolidge, Watson completes his coverage of Coolidge’s first message to Congress. As in the previous installment, he stresses his point that Coolidge was underestimated at the time of his ascension to the presidency, and that people, particularly the GOP establishment, did not expect much of him either in terms of oratory or of leadership:

Coolidge closed his message with the following sentences, and they were really eloquent, contrary to the general belief that he was never eloquent.

“The world has had enough of the curse of hatred and selfishness, of destruction and war. It has had enough of the wrongful use of material power. For the healing of the nations there must be good will and charity, confidence and peace. The time has come for a more practical use of moral power, and more reliance upon the principle that right makes its own might. Our authority among the nations must be represented by justice and mercy. It is necessary not only to have faith, but to make sacrifices for our faith. The spiritual forces of the world make all its final determinations. It is with these voices that America should speak. Whenever they declare a righteous purpose there need be no doubt they will be heard. America has taken her place in the world as a republic – free, independent, powerful. The best service that can be rendered to humanity is the assurance that this place will be maintained.”

(Watson continues in his own voice:)

I must confess that I was greatly astounded at the eloquence of these declarations, uttered largely by peroration and for the purpose of putting a “cracker to his whip.” But they went over with deep effect, his entire speech was received with great applause as the assembled statesmen suddenly recognized in him a leader, the newspapers all over the country carried it with much ├ęclat, and the next Republican nominee for president became apparent the moment he pronounced his ultimate sentence.

As I Knew Them – Part I

From the memoirs of Sen. James E. Watson, “As I Knew Them” (1936, Bobbs-Merrill).

In this June, 1926 picture, Sen Watson is seen at the left of Pres. Coolidge, with the Indiana State Republican Committee

I do not know of anyone at all who thought it possible for Calvin Coolidge to be nominated in the event of Harding living out his term. In fact, it was very much bruited about that he would not even be nominated for the vice-presidency again with Harding, if that gentleman weathered the presidential storms of the first four years. There was a decided movement to have Coolidge run for the senatorship of Massachusetts, because everybody believed that he could carry that state against any and all comers. But these things were all set at naught when President Harding died and Coolidge assumed the first position in the country.

Even up to the time he delivered his first message to Congress, it was not seriously believed by many politicians anywhere that he could be nominated for the presidency. But, after that first deliverance to the House and Senate in joint session, there was never the slightest doubt about his nomination. He argued the question of taxation, which was very close to the public heart at that time, with such force and cogency that we all knew he had sounded the keynote for the next campaign and defined the issue for that struggle.

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James E. Watson – As I KnewThem

James Eli Watson is a fascinating figure in American politics. As a U.S. Representative and later Senator from (and boss of) Indiana, his career and involvement in politics spanned the era from the Gilded Age to the New Deal. Credited with coining the phrase If you can’t lick ’em, jine (join) ’em, he was throughout his political life one of the best-liked personalities in Washington.

It was his good fortune early in his career to become the close associate of the powerful Speaker of the House and stalwart conservative, Joseph G. (“Uncle Joe”) Cannon, under whom he served as Republican whip. His service in the U.S. Senate lasted from 1916 through 1933, the last four years as majority leader, but was swept out of office by the Democratic landslide of 1932.

Watson was well acquainted with the powerful figures of the era, serving in Congress under 8 presidents (Cleveland, McKinley, Theodore Roosevelt, Taft, Wilson, Harding, Coolidge, and Hoover). He also knew Harrison and saw Grant, Hayes, Garfield, and Arthur.

His memoirs, As I Knew Them, published in 1936, are full of anecdotes of the great and near-great of his day. Starting with the next post, I’ll “serialize” in this blog the chapter he devoted to Calvin Coolidge. Here’s a teaser:

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